Ideas for growing

As you may know, I'm working on a side hustle selling Danish furniture. 

I've been "practicing" – buying Danish or midcentury modern style furnishings for cheap up island or online classifieds, running them back to Victoria and/or refinishing, and reselling to local vintage shops. I've yet to make any money, but I'm covering my gas bills at least. There's decent demand this style of furniture here, especially as it tends to be compact and sort of insubstantial, airy – a Danish modern sofa doesn't fill up a small room with a huge, blocky mass.

A Frem Røjle table by Hans Olsen. Beautifully refinished, with tennis balls to keep the feet safe!

It's great for condos, in other words. Have you seen all those towers going up? Once you've put in your down payment, you can't afford new furniture anyway.

I hope to bring a container of stuff from Denmark to Victoria in July, and I'm working on finding my customers for it. July is a long way off though, so I've been thinking about ideas to keep the momentum going while I wait.

A teak bureau with a lock. The light is useful, too bad it's so ugly and broken. It'll sell though.
  1. Get Sylvia to do a lot of upholstery for me. Find other upholsterers and put them all to work.
    • Sylvia bought seven teak chairs off me last week. She reupholsters them in her basement in Fernwood and flips them.
    • Good upholsterers are hard to find in Victoria, I'm told.
  2. Import some new goods. Just a flat instead of a container. Lamps.
    • Expensive! How would I sell them? The used shops I've been working with won't want them.
    • Staging companies, people furnishing offices and airbnbs.
  3. Try to find a big wholesaler near Copenhagen like what Lindsey does. Maybe get more stuff, and faster.
    • Lindsey works at By Design Modern in Vancouver. They import 3 containers per year to their warehouse on Commercial Drive.
    • My guy in Denmark can probably fill up my container, but if I do another run relatively soon, he might not have time to restock.
  4. Sell my car. Get a van. Make it possible to work with bigger stuff, tables and bureaus etc.
    • I really love my car.
    • But, it's just a car. And a van would make this a lot more efficient.
  5. Do runs to the shops in Vancouver.
    • $140 round trip plus gas, so I have to make sure I'm bringing back at least $3-400 profit each time to make it worth the effort.
    • I'll need a van for sure.
  6. Write blog posts about Danish design. I've never been able to focus my writing on anything, but if I can, focusing helps build an audience.
    • I like this idea because it involves something I'm already good at, writing, and it's free, and I don't have to go anywhere.
    • I dislike it for the same reasons; it doesn't challenge me in the areas where I'm still weak, ie. selling stuff.
    • It's a meta-activity. I might generate contacts from my blog but I'll never sell anything.
  7. Get some floor space at Union 22 or the Old Attic and put some stock there.
    • This is actually a good idea. Most difficult part is acquiring some goods and holding onto them for a few days until I can get them to the shops.
  8. Make friends all those people who think they ought to open a new co-working space, and sell them furniture for it.
    • Haven't the faintest idea how I would go about this, except that I know one person who has co-founded a co-working space in the past.
  9. Rent my own shop space. Get the flippers on UsedVic to consign stuff with me.
    • There's probably room for one more shop in Victoria, with all these condos going up.
    • It'll solve the storage problem, anyway.
  10. Go to Monterey and Palm Springs, or just the southern mainland, and hit up their version of UsedVictoria.
    • No idea if stuff is cheaper there – there's probably a few opportunities though.
    • I'll definitely need a van.
Seven teaky chairs with the 1970's all over the seats.
Seven teaky chairs with the 1970's all over the seats.

With a little luck, I'll get five minutes in a row next week to work on one of these ideas. 

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Practicing

Before I gamble a lot of hard-earned money to buy designer furniture, stuff it into a steel box, and ship it from Denmark to Victoria, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure I know the market.

Can I sell this table? This chair? For how much? To whom, in what condition, and how long will it take? You can't run a business without knowing, and you can’t know without doing it.

coffee grinder
It's a coffee grinder!

I want to have my container here in early summer, which leaves some time to learn. And so on a rainy Sunday morning in January, Christina and I spent a day getting educated. Or rather, I got educated, and Christina, who knows everything already, came along for the show.

She met me on the corner outside her house at 8:30am. We went first to the Legion on Gorge Rd. There was a flea market there for 2 bucks entry. We went through the maze in 20 minutes and I found a wooden coffee grinder. Christina said “Cat,” and pointed out a brass cat.

“Cat,” I agreed. We pulled our hoods up and went back to the car. There was a bit of weather that day, so I took the Malahat slow. The conditions were perfect for getting the car into a hydroplane then blowing off the mountain on the next gust of wind. We survived, and drove on toward Chemainus. When we got to Cassidy I said, “Isn’t Chemainus before Nanaimo?” Cassidy is the last town before Nanaimo.

“Oops,” said Christina. The conversation must have been too good. We did a U-turn and headed back.

In Chemainus there’s an antique mall where people rent out floor space to sell their stuff. I found some Pyrex mugs with green polka dots. My phone told me that with the full set, including the punch bowl that comes with them, this design is quite desirable. However, the mugs were selling for seven dollars each, and there was no punch bowl in sight. The seller knew what they had already.

punch mugs with polka dots
I really love the polka dots though.

The thing about Pyrex is that a lot of people are super into it, often the same people who are into Danish modern, and it’s easy to fit a lot in a small hatchback. Also, I kinda really like it myself. I’ve spent more time that I’m comfortable to admit admiring the Pyrex section in Wal-Mart. I was shocked to learn that people collect it.

We poked into one other shop on the high street there, but there was little Danish modern and nothing underpriced.

autumn harvest mixing bowl
This design is Autumn Harvest, circa 1973. People will fight over it if you can find the nesting bowls.

There was a table in Campbell River that I wanted to see, and the owner was going to drive up to Parksville to meet us at 1:00. We still had plenty of time, so we went to the Value Village in Nanaimo. The furniture there was entirely cheap junk, but I found some neat Pyrex as well. Christina pointed out a square blue measuring cup and said it was a neat thing that I could sell. “You sure?” I asked, turning it over.

white mug with measuring stick for scale
The teacher's staffroom mug. They remind me of my childhood.

“Mmhmm,” she said. I didn’t believe her and left it. The following week, when I was trying to sell that day’s finds, she pointed out an identical one in a shop in Victoria. It was selling for triple the price of the one at Value Village. So it goes.

I found some mugs and a bowl I liked and bought them. A few minutes of research on my phone verified that some mugs were worthless, recent, Chinese Wedgwood mugs, not vintage, unique, made in Britain Wedgwood. I left them as well and we continued to Parksville.

generic mug
This is nothing. Absolutely nothing.

We found our sellers hanging out in their truck in a Starbucks parking lot. Christina had been talking shit about the table I wanted to buy all the way here. “It’s ugly,” she said. “In fact, it’s fugly.”

The table was not Danish modern, but a Canadian imitation. It was nowhere close to as elegant as what the masters make, and even though the line it came from had some very collectible pieces in it, this was not one of them. It’s a round end table with a teak top and a vinyl-wrapped column, by RS & Associates of Montreal.

I disagree that it was fugly – however, it wasn’t a statement piece that would make any room come alive. It was just a table. It would fit in somewhere.

A man got out of the truck and took the table out of the backseat. “Did you look up this designer?” he asked. “I’ve seen their tables selling for 3 or 4 thousand online. I even had an offer for $125 for this one last week. Eighty is a real bargain.”

large rs associates table
Some would say it's worth 3k. It's not the one I bought.

“We’ve got some other teak stuff too if you want to look,” called his wife from the front seat. She didn’t get out of the truck, just twisted back between the seats. She showed me a platter – teak, yes, but made in Thailand and nothing interesting about it except the wood.

“So why didn’t you sell the table for $125?” I wondered. I’ve seen the tables he mentioned. They are by the same designer, but they are not the same design.

They answered at the same time, saying a lot of words that included “Victoria” and “long drive”. I couldn’t sort them out.

“How about the Pyrex?” I asked. There were a couple of bowls hiding under her raincoat on the far seat.

friendship pattern pyrex mixing bowl
The Friendship Birds pattern.

“They’re worth forty each, easily,” she said. “This design, the Friendship Birds, is really rare. You want them?”

“Can I have them with the table for eighty?” I asked. I was having a moment of self doubt.

“No way,” she said. “These are really rare. You can sell them for sixty, I bet.”

I squinted at her, but agreed on a price. I don’t know, I liked the birds. Maybe somebody else will too.

That week I restored the table, which involves stripping off the finish with a nasty chemical, sanding, oiling, resanding and reoiling until it was smooth as satin. On Saturday I went around to the shops.

Shirley at Easy Livin’ glanced at a picture of the table on my phone and gave it a hard no. I looked around her shop quickly and saw nothing that looked like my Pyrex.

top of refinished rs associates table

Roshan was keeping the shop at Trig Vintage and told me to come back and talk to Ian, the buyer, tomorrow.

The Fabulous Find is too high end for this table, so I went to Charmaine’s and introduced myself to Charmaine herself for the first time. She agreed to see it and the Pyrex.

Charmaine admired my refinishing job – nice to see that pay off – and agreed on a price for the table. Not much profit for me, but right now I’m just trying stuff. Breaking even is okay.

refinished teak end table by rs associates
I got it so silky smooth.

On Sunday, Christina was free again, so I picked her up and we went back to Trig Vintage. Ian sniffed at the Pyrex and had no interest in the coffee grinder. Roshan was next door looking after the Fabulous Find that day, so we stopped in to say hello and commiserate.

“You could try Country Comfort for the Pyrex,” he said. “I see a lot of that kind of stuff there. And you can send me a picture any time you see something and you’re not sure if it’s worth anything. I worked auctions for 20 years, I know most of it.”

Ian had bummed me out a little, so the encouragement helped. Kahla joined us on the way to Country Comforts, and she and Christina poked around that shop, the one next door, and Charmaine’s across the street while I went through the box of Pyrex with the two women there. The owner liked the coffee grinder well enough to pay me for it. She recommended another shop for the Pyrex, Kay’s Korner in Cook Street Village. Kay wasn’t in that day, so I’ve still got the Pyrex and I’m starting to think, maybe the Pyrex business is not for me.

Next week I try again – instead of working with a hundred dollars, I’m going to try a thousand and see where it gets me.

As we left Cook Street Village Kahla said, “I like this new hobby of yours, Shannon! I’ve never been to any of these places!”

So I broke even and entertained some friends – it’s a good start!

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